Each week we’ll take a step back into the history of Great Bend through the eyes of reporters past. We’ll reacquaint you with what went into creating the Great Bend of today, and do our best to update you on what “the rest of the story” turned out to be.
This week in 1916 was an important one for laborers in this country. On Sept. 1, President Woodrow Wilson signed into law the Keating Owen Act, banning child labor from interstate commerce. It also limited the working hours of children under the age of 16 to no more than 8 hours a day, and no night shifts. Most importantly, it banned the sale of products from any factory, shop or cannery that employed children under the age of 14, and from any mine that employed children under the age of 16.
It was a minor piece of news reported in a short paragraph on the front page of the Great Bend Daily Tribune that morning.
“Child Labor Bill is Law - President Wilson signed the child labor bill today. He said, “With genuine pride, I play my part in completing this legislation. It is a congratulation oto the country and felicitates myself.”
Meanwhile, the rail unions were threatening a strike in support of the eight-hour workday. At the time, the railroad workday was 10 hours. On Sept. 3, when Wilson signed the Adamson Act, the eight-hour workday was secured, and railroad workers would continue to receive the same pay for eight hours of work that they had previously earned in 10 prior to the act. On Sept. 7, the Workmen’s Compensation Act was also passed by Congress. Then, on Sept. 8, Wilson signed the Emergency Revenue Act, doubling the rate of income tax and adding inheritance tax and munitions profits tax. Ouch!
Days later, in the Tribune, it was reported that newsboys in Kansas City were to be prohibited from selling papers on the street cars of Kansas City as the result of an order issued by the president of the Kansas City Railways Company.
“The order was the result of numerous requests and many letters received by the company, it was stated. The letters pointed out that the custom of newsboys to hop on and off street cars was very dangerous and often fatal. As the announcement of the company pointed out, the order was issued “solely in the interest of safety and public welfare.”
Clearly, the culture was beginning to look at the common practice of putting young children to work in a different light.
Possible strike doesn’t faze Great Bend well-to-do
The impact of the threatened national railroad strike was described in the column Travel Notes on the front page of the Sept. 1, 1916 edition of the Tribune. Two types of tourists visiting Colorado’s Manitou Springs, where one (unspecified) Townsley family member was enjoying his summer vacation,were described. Those worrying about the strike and the tie-up in railroad travel, and those who didn’t believe there would be a strike and refusing to worry about the matter. From the sound of it, there were more of the former. Townsley, traveling with Joe Stauffer, John McGinty, and Vernon Fryberger and family, some of Great Bend’s elite, were part of the latter.
“The sentiment is freely expressed here today that there is no danger of a strike Monday but at that the exodus has been so bad that no Pullman tickets could be obtained last night, either uppers or lowers, for any train before Sunday night. And then they were selling only uppers. This evening they were gone. The roads are running trains with many more Pullmans than usual but that doesn’t seem to relieve the situation any. The depots are filled leaving on every train and the baggagement are snowed under. Trunks fill the baggage rooms and the platforms and the folks depending on trunks getting home are likely to be disappointed.”
When passage of the bill was reported, the Monday, Sept. 4 edition included local and statewide reaction.
“Local Santa Fe Agent Will Kleindenst, received orders this afternoon at 2 o’clock that he should accept all freight for shipment without exception. The report was sent out last night that such action had been taken by the western and other roads that Mr. Kleindenst could not state positively that such was the case until he received his orders this afternoon.”
Before oil and gas
Oil was not yet an industry in Great Bend in 1916, but it wouldn’t be long in coming. In the Sept. 1 edition of the Tribune, it was reported that efforts were being made in Great Bend to obtain leases sufficient to bring a drilling company to the area to prospect for oil and gas.
“Several of Great Bend’s leading businessmen have told Mr. Taylor and Mr. Coughlin, as well as others who have been doing most of the work that they would do all they could to help them put the deal through...Mr Taylor reiterated the statement that he wanted it understood that nobody is taking any risk except the drilling company, when they lease their land the way the leases are being taken. If oil in good paying quantities is found the landowner would have a good income from his percentage of the lease and if nothing is found the driller is the loser.”
There was no question that wells would be drilled in the county. The race was on to see who would be the first, though. Ellinwood and Claflin businesses were also working hard to be first.
“It takes about 50,000 acres to get the drillers to start and the local men have almost that much, but some of the very land that is required cannot be obtained because the farmer will not let them have the lease,” it was reported. That farmer’s name was not disclosed, but one can bet that he was being paid an awful lot of attention at that time, and likely enjoying every moment of it. But in the end, that one farmer couldn’t stop the coming oil boom in this area. Barton County, it turned out, was one of the best oil producing counties in the state, and the industry that developed from it helped buffer the county through the tough times, including two world wars and the Great Depression, both just right around the corner. It also led to Barton County having one of the best developed roadways in the state too, something that we continue to be proud of today.
Great Bend’s swimming pool was noted twice this week.
Town Girls Have Fun
“The swimming pool in the city will have no inducements for town girls if the country folks continue to compete in this enterprise. Recently a crowd of young ladies from town were guests at a country home and one of the day’s amusements was a swim in the large watertank in the field. This was a ladies’ party.”
Came Near Drowning
From the Ellinwood Leader - “This is the time of the year when parents should make it one of their personal duties to know that their boys are not off for a swim. Too many boys have gone swimming and never returned. If they must swim, let them swim in a safe place where there will be no need of worrying all the time.
Every year, with the exception of this year, one of more boys have been drowned at the sand pump hole in the river at Great Bend. Since the building of the swimming pool at Great Bend the boys have their free days for swimming and do not now go to the river as of old. There came near being a drowning in the sand pit hole in the river here last week when Vernon richardson, a youngster of nine years, was taken from the water by Mr. Guy Russell, who happened to be near at the time. Parents should not allow their boys to go to the river. It is dangerous at any time.”
This week on Sept. 6, America saw the opening of its first true supermarket, when the “Piggly Wiggly” was opened by Clarence Saunders in Memphis, Tenn. It would be some time before Great Bend would catch up. One-hundred years ago, the most advertised place to purchase groceries in the Tribune was Kopke Bros. Wholesale and Retail Grocers. They claimed annual sales over $100,000, which was pretty good for any business of that size in Great Bend 100 years ago. They claimed the spot of Largest Grocery Store in Western Kansas, and delivered orders free.